Top Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs 2024

12 Min Read Published September 5, 2023
Become a Doctor of Nursing Practice: Best DNP Programs of 2023

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is the highest level of training a nurse can pursue. Not only do nurses with DNP degrees elevate themselves, but they also elevate the entire nursing profession.

However, embarking on the DNP path is not something anybody should take lightly. Though it's the gold standard for nursing leadership, earning a DNP takes a significant investment of time and money. Understanding the cost, expectations, and challenges of DNP programs will best prepare you for this degree.

This article will examine DNP degrees and the top DNP programs nationwide. Read on to learn about how much DNP programs cost, how long they last, and what to expect from them.

Best DNP Programs for 2024

Here are the top 10 Doctor of Nursing Practice programs of 2024 according to U.S. News and World Report:

School Graduate Nursing Degrees Offered Number of Full-Time Faculty Number of Graduate Nursing Students DNP Tuition
Johns Hopkins University

Master’s, Ph.D., DNP

88 1,228 $1,901 per credit
Columbia University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 89 697 $72,776 per year
Duke University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 84 832 $1,984 per credit
Rush University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 76 1,062 $1,286 per credit
University of Washington Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 84 517 $30,636 per year
Emory University (Woodruff) Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 123 1,057 $1,721 per credit
Rutgers University, Newark Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 101 600 $1,000 per credit
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 90 304 $1,439 per credit
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Ph.D., DNP 79 398 $28,431 per year
University of Pittsburgh Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 88 223 $978 per credit

>> Show Me DNP Programs

Top DNP Programs 2024 

There are currently 426 accredited DNP programs, with 70 new programs still in the planning stages (AACN).

Though each of the programs accredited by the CCNE provides excellent education, the lists below show U.S. News and World Report’s top five programs in the most popular DNP specialty areas.

>> Show Me DNP Programs

Top DNP Administration & Management Programs

1. Emory University, Atlanta, GA 

  • Tuition: $1,721 per credit
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes - Most courses are available online with intensives

Emory University’s Post-MSN DNP Health Systems Leadership Track prepares graduates for leadership roles in analyzing, evaluating, and transforming complex healthcare systems.

2. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 

  • Tuition: $1,883 per credit
  • Contact Information: 
  • Online Options Available? Yes - Online coursework with some on-campus requirements

Vanderbilt’s DNP Executive Leadership program emphasizes executive leadership in the practice arena. Graduates will be ready to improve healthcare outcomes and will have a strengthened ability to guide complex care delivery. 

3. Ohio State University

  • Tuition: $973 per credit 
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes

OSU offers two post-master's DNP tracks to interested students - DNP Clinical Expert and DNP Nurse Executive. While Clinical Expert focuses on mastering patient care, Nurse Executive fosters leadership and innovation. Graduates from this DNP program learn how to make transformative, positive changes in healthcare organizations.

4. University of Alabama, Birmingham

  • Tuition: $682 per credit
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes

The MSN-DNP program at UAB prepares students to become nursing leaders, spearheading practice improvements and change within health systems. The university accomplishes this mission by building on MSN studies through clinical immersions and didactic instruction.

5. Rush University, Chicago, IL

  • Tuition: $1,286 per credit full-time 
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes

Rush University offers two different DNP programs focusing on Transformative Leadership. The first concentrates on Population Health and aims to provide the knowledge and skills needed to enhance clinical health outcomes for patient aggregates and clinical/vulnerable populations. The Systems program provides education in effective project planning, policy advocacy, and systems-level thinking.

Extracted from U.S. News & World Report, 1 September 2023

Top DNP Nurse Practitioner: Adult/Gerontology, Acute Care Programs

1. Duke University, Durham, NC

  • Tuition: $1,984 per credit 
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes - Hybrid learning is available

Also home to a DNP CRNA program in North Carolina, Duke offers a BSN to DNP pathway in which students first complete an MSN degree. This track allows them to certify as NPs before transitioning into the DNP curriculum.

Duke's Acute Care Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner program focuses on treating America’s aging population. It develops the knowledge and skills necessary to deliver nursing care to individuals from adolescence to older adulthood across acute care settings. 

2. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Vanderbilt’s Adult-Gerontology Acute Care DNP program provides the training and education for nurse practitioners to handle complex patient situations. It focuses on advocating for population health initiatives and evidence-based health policy for adults, including older adults. 

3. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 

  • Tuition: $1,939 per credit
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes

The Johns Hopkins Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner DNP program provides a rich academic and clinical environment facilitating diagnosis and management of acute and chronic health problems in adult and elderly patients. The program builds abilities in physical and psychosocial assessment, clinical decision-making, health promotion, and disease prevention.

4. Rush University, Chicago, IL

  • Tuition: $1,286 per credit 
  • Contact Information:
  • Online Options Available? Yes - Hybrid learning is available

The Doctor of Nursing Practice Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program at Rush University provides all the training and education needed for advanced practice nurses in adult critical and acute care settings to help acutely or critically ill adults across the lifespan, including patient/case management and advanced technical skills.

        5. Emory University (Woodruff), Atlanta, GA

        • Tuition: $1,721 per credit
        • Contact Information:
        • Online Options Available? Yes - Most courses are available online with intensives

        Emory's post-BSN NDP program allows students to select an Adult-Gerontology: Acute Care NP specialization. This program fosters clinical leadership skills and advanced nursing practice competencies in students, preparing them for roles as healthcare leaders. Emory DNP students benefit from one-on-one training with a nationally renowned faculty, dynamic clinical rotations, and plentiful networking opportunities.

        Extracted from U.S. News & World Report, 1 September 2023

        Top DNP Nurse Practitioner: Family Programs

        1. Duke University, Durham, NC 

        • Tuition: $1,984 per credit
        • Contact Information:
        • Online Options Available? Yes - Hybrid learning is available

        Duke University’s renowned DNP program provides those specializing in Family Medicine with the skills and knowledge to improve systems of care to influence patient outcomes, make changes to enhance quality of care, and assess published evidence to inform practice. Graduates become leaders in interdisciplinary healthcare teams and work to improve systems of care, outcomes, quality, and safety. 

        2. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 

        • Tuition: $1,939 per credit
        • Contact Information:
        • Online Options Available? Yes - Hybrid learning is available

        The Doctor of Nursing Practice Family Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program at Johns Hopkins enhances nursing skills in physical and psychosocial assessment, clinical decision-making, health promotion, and disease prevention. It teaches its graduates to diagnose and manage acute and chronic primary health problems across the lifespan. 

        3. Rush University, Chicago, IL 

        • Tuition: $1,286 per credit
        • Contact Information:
        • Online Options Available? Yes - Most classes are available online

        Pursuing a DNP with a specialization in Family Medicine prepares students to deliver comprehensive primary health care to individuals across the lifespan. The curriculum focuses on population health and social determinants of health and includes significant coursework combined with clinical experiences. 

        4. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

        • Tuition: $964 per credit
        • Contact Information:
        • Online Options Available? Yes - Hybrid learning is available

        DNP nurse practitioner students at UNC Chapel Hill may pursue a family specialization. Ranked 10th in the US, this program focuses on "community-oriented primary care," according to the university website. The degree emphasizes epidemiology, family and community systems, and technology use. This DNP pathway is ideal for nurses interested in supporting community and global health efforts.

        5. Emory University (Woodruff), Atlanta, GA

        • Tuition: $1,721 per credit
        • Contact Information:
        • Online Options Available? Yes - Most courses are available online with intensives

        Emory's BSN to DNP program allows students to select a family nurse practitioner (FNP) specialty. As they work their way through the program, they'll first take on the university's MSN curriculum, preparing them for national certification as an FNP. Then, they complete the DNP curriculum, fostering leadership skills through didactic instruction and clinical training.

        Extracted from U.S. News & World Report, 1 September 2023

        About the Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

        A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a doctoral degree that represents the highest level of training in the school of nursing. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing created the DNP degree in 2004. Its conception responded to a need for nurses with the skills and training for executive leadership positions.

        This graduate degree concentrates on evidence-based practice, systems leadership, and improved responses to an evolving healthcare environment.  Nurses who earn DNPs are experts in their specialty area and frequently serve in leadership roles within the healthcare industry.

        Is a DNP the Same as a Nurse Practitioner?

        DNPs and nurse practitioners (NPs) are not the same thing. Doctor of Nursing Practice refers to a graduate degree, while nurse practitioner is a career title.

        Nurse practitioners can hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a DNP degree from an accredited NP program. In many cases, they also must maintain post-graduate licensure in their NP specialty area. Some nurse practitioners may also add "DNP"  to their title to represent their education level.

        >> Related: DNP Meaning

        Benefits of Getting Your DNP 

        As the need for healthcare expands, so will the demand for nurses with advanced degrees such as DNPs. These professionals will increasingly be looked to for their clinical expertise and leadership. As a result, they will be elevated to positions of greater responsibility and impact. 

        Leadership positions in the healthcare industry command higher levels of compensation and more career opportunities. They also provide opportunities as educators for the next generation of nurses. 

        The benefits of earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree include: 

        • Achieving the highest level of credentialing in the nursing field
        • Career opportunities in executive-level leadership roles
        • Recognition for achievements in the healthcare industry
        • Increased salary and compensation

        >> Show Me DNP Programs

        What Can You Do With a DNP? 

        The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree prepares nurses to serve in executive-level healthcare positions. DNP programs provide advanced nursing expertise that translates to better patient outcomes and a more effective healthcare system.

        DNP graduates work in hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing and residential care facilities, outpatient care centers, and government roles. 

        Positions for DNPs

        Typical positions held by DNP nurses include: 

        Specialties that Require or Benefit From a DNP 

        DNP programs cover a wide range of topics. However, the following specialties benefit particularly from his advanced education.

        • Women’s Health -- including obstetrics, gynecological and reproductive health, and primary care.
        • Pediatrics -- in both primary and specialty healthcare.
        • Psychiatric Mental Health – in individual, group, and family psychotherapy applications.
        • Gerontology – including palliative and end-of-life care.
        • Nursing Education – educating patients and the general public. 

        Doctor of Nursing Practice vs Master of Science in Nursing 

        You must have at least an MSN degree to work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). However, since the establishment of the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, many MSN-trained nurses have debated whether pursuing the highest-level degree is worth it. 

        Both degrees lead to advanced specialization. However, each one offers unique advantages.

        Advantages of a DNP Degree Program

        • The potential to earn roughly $8,000 more per year in salary
        • More opportunities for advancement
        • Advanced training for leadership positions
        • Experience in research, data analysis, healthcare policy, and interventions
        • Access to information systems to improve patient care
        • Increased focus on clinical judgment and evidence-based care

        >> Show Me DNP Programs

        Advantages of an MSN Program 

        • Shorter time to degree completion
        • Lower tuition costs
        • Available APRN and NP pathways

        >> Show Me Online MSN Programs

        What Will You Learn in a DNP Program? 

        DNP programs feature hands-on training for specialized advanced nursing. They also emphasize evidence-based protocols that improve patient health outcomes and prepare graduates for leadership roles.

        The curriculum provides specialization based on the student’s area of interest in addition to the following eight essential foundational competencies: 

        • Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
        • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
        • Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
        • Information Systems/Technology
        • Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
        • Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
        • Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
        • Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
        • Advanced Nursing Practice

        DNP Courses 

        Though every DNP program will offer its own unique curriculum, the following list is representative of the courses offered: 

        • Evidence-Based Practice I and II
        • Scholarly Writing
        • Quality Improvement and Patient Safety
        • Health Policy
        • Management of Organizations and Systems
        • Informatics for Scholarly Practice

        DNP Program Length

        On average, DNP school lasts four years. However, you can condense that time into three years with sufficient prerequisites and regular summer classes. MSN nurses can complete a DNP with 1-2 years of full-time classes or 2-3 years of part-time classes.

        You can expect DNP programs to include at least 1,000 clinical practice hours and a final portfolio or practice change initiative. The required total number of credits you'll achieve depends on the school and area of study.

        Can You Earn a DNP Degree Online? 

        Many of the most prestigious DNP schools offer their programs online. This enables nursing students to balance education with their careers, families, and social lives. You can attend online DNP programs on a full or part-time schedule.

        Like traditional in-person programs, online programs prepare students for board certification examinations in their specialty areas. Additionally, they often cost less and may be available on a rolling basis, allowing students to begin their programs as soon as they get in. 

        Most online DNP programs require in-person sessions over the course of the curriculum, such as clinical placements at nearby facilities.

        >> Show Me DNP Programs

        How Much Do DNP Programs Cost? 

        The average cost of a Doctor of Nursing Practice program is approximately $28,000. However, some cost as little as $12,000, while others cost over $60,000. 

        DNP program costs vary based on the school’s reputation, location, and whether it’s in-person or online. Private school programs tend to be more expensive, while state school programs offer lower tuition to students who live in-state. 

        Every accredited DNP program provides tools to pass the board certification exams. Choose a program that best suits your goals and budget. 

        DNP Program Prerequisites and Requirements 

        Getting accepted into an accredited DNP program is an accomplishment in itself. The application process is rigorous, and the requirements vary based on school and type of program.

        Most programs have the following minimum requirements: 

        • Registered nurse license
        • 1-2 years of nursing experience
        • Bachelor's degree (BSN) from an accredited nursing program
        • Letters of recommendation
        • Minimum GPA in your baccalaureate or postgraduate program
        • Completion of prerequisite courses
        • Personal interviews
        • Submission of official transcripts, a resume or CV, and a personal statement

        >> Related: Top BSN to DNP Programs

        DNP Program Accreditation 

        Accreditation of a nursing education program is an indication of its quality and an assurance that the program’s graduates have mastered the appropriate skills and training.

        When considering a program, the first thing aspiring DNP students should look for is accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

        Explore More DNP School Resources

        Want more information on DNP programs and degrees? Check out these other guides and resources:

        1. Top Online DNP Programs
        2. DNP Guide | Salary, Benefits & Programs
        3. CRNA vs DNP & DNAP: What's the Difference?
        4. NP vs. DNP
        5. How to Go From RN to DNP
        6. DNP vs Ph.D. in Nursing - What is the Difference?
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